By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
|The Panthers drafted Michal Repik with the 40th pick in last year's draft. Repik's now considered one of the top prospects in the system.
For more than a year, Scott Luce has been driving the back roads and sitting in old, cold rinks throughout the world watching the future of hockey.
From British Columbia to Nova Scotia, from Moscow to Kariskoga, Luce has spent countless minutes, hours, days and months evaluating the draft class of 2008. And after watching, researching and interviewing the top junior players, Luce is excited about landing a “significant prospect” come next weekend at the NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa.
“This is an above average draft,” said Luce, the Panthers’ director of amateur scouting. “There’s a solid 40 to 45 guys who should have significant NHL careers based on how they’re projected.”
This is good news for the Panthers, who traded their first-round selection last June when acquiring All-Star goalie Tomas Vokoun and will select 31st at this year’s draft.
“We’re going to be happy with whoever falls into our laps at 31,” said Luce, who has been instrumental in Panther selections Nathan Horton, Rostislav Olesz, Michael Frolik, Keaton Ellerby
and Michal Repik
. “We’re confident we’re going to get a significant prospect at the ’08 Draft.”
The odds-on choice to be selected first overall by the Lightning is Steven Stamkos, a 5-11 center who has scored 100 goals (197 points) the past two years in 124 games while playing in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). The fun begins after Tampa selects and Los Angeles is on the clock.
“I don’t think there’s any question who the No. 1 pick will be,” Luce said. “But number two is going to be wide open. Los Angeles has a difficult decision to make.”
The Kings could take one of four defensemen, all ranked as NHL prospects. The four are:
Drew Doughty, a 6-0, 219-pounder who could be the most NHL-ready defenseman and a player Central Scouting believes a team can build around the next 10 years.
Zach Bogosian, the only OHL defenseman who led his team in scoring (61 points) last season. A solid, all-around player, some believe he could have been the first overall pick if not for Stamkos.
Luke Schenn, who, at 6-2, has been compared to Ed Jovanovski
with a tough edge who’s quietly effective every night, according to Luce.
Alex Pietrangelo, a 6-3, 206 pounder who had 45 assists last year in Niagara and, Luce says, is the “complete package of size and skill.”
This isn’t to say the Entry Draft doesn’t hold promise when it comes to forwards. Center Colin Wilson of Boston College is regarded as a solid pick as is left winger Mikkel Boedker of Denmark and 6-3, 203-pound Kyle Beach of the Western Hockey League.
The wild card in the draft could be left winger Nikita Filatov of Moscow’s Central Army team. Described by Central Scouting as having “tons of talent,” Filatov might tumble in the draft despite being considered one of the world’s top prospects because there is no transfer agreement between the NHL and the Russian Ice Hockey Federation.
“It’s a bit of a gamble whether they come over to play or not,” admitted Luce, who, nonetheless, drafted two prospects last year from Russia in Evgeni Dadonov and Sergei Gayduchenko
. “Dadonov might be considered high risk (in the third round), but we felt he was too strong an asset. We felt he would have been a first or early second round pick if there was an agreement in place. You have to have confidence, based on your due diligence and working with his agent, that, in time, the player has a strong interest in coming to play in North America.”
Luce, who has seen the top 50-75 prospects no fewer than eight times, says teams will ultimately approach the draft based on their needs.
“Sometimes decisions are made for the short term and other decisions are based on the long term,” he said. “That’s why a guy who you have at 31 another team may have at 50. Everyone places a different value on each player. Everyone likes to draft the best player possible. But you may value a puck moving defenseman over a scoring winger. Another team might value the scoring winger. It’s all going to depend on where your priority is.”